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The Key Differences Between Detainment and Arrest


If you are ever suspected of a crime, you should know the difference between a "detainment" and an "arrest.” Both acts involve a loss of freedom, but they serve different purposes.

This article explores these differences in Texas, helping clarify common misunderstandings and explaining your rights in both scenarios.

Detainment Explained

Detainment refers to keeping someone in custody or restricting their freedom, typically by law enforcement, for a short period. This temporary hold allows officers to investigate a situation when they have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Arrest Defined

An arrest is a more severe form of legal constraint. It is defined as law enforcement taking a person into custody with the intent of charging them with a crime. Upon arrest, a person's freedoms are significantly curtailed as they are formally accused of wrongdoing.

Law Enforcement's Power to Detain

Police officers may detain someone when they have reasonable suspicion that this person is connected to criminal activity. This process allows officers to investigate while protecting the detainee’s civil liberties.

Detainment does not give officers absolute authority, and it is subject to legal limitations. For instance, detainment should be only as long as necessary to confirm or dispel the officer's suspicion. Furthermore, during detainment, officers cannot use the same level of force applicable to an arrest unless they perceive an immediate threat. Officers are also limited in their ability to search the individual or their belongings without consent or evidence of a crime.

The Arrest Process

Officers can make an arrest based on probable cause. This is a higher legal standard than reasonable suspicion. An arrest signifies that there is substantial evidence linking an individual to a crime. It allows police to hold you indefinitely, and it usually results in jail time as you await trial.

The arrest process typically involves reading Miranda rights, making the suspect aware of their right to remain silent and to obtain an attorney.

Your Rights in Each Scenario


During detainment, you have the right to remain silent, and you should exercise this right the moment you are aware of the situation. Anything you say can be used as probable cause for an arrest.

Additionally, you have the right to be informed of the reason for your detainment, which you should exercise immediately. Police often try to withhold this information from you. They want to ask you as many questions as they can without letting you know they suspect something. This is an old trick designed to make you say something that could give them probable cause.


After an arrest, your freedom is inhibited, but your civil rights expand. Our system entitles you to legal representation, even if you cannot afford a lawyer.

Additionally, someone under arrest has the right to a phone call. This privilege gives the person access to a family member, friend, or legal counsel. People need to let the outside world know what is happening, and the phone call allows them to do so.

Duration of Detainment

Legally, there is a limit to how long the police can detain you. These time allow police time to confirm or dispel their suspicions, and they protect citizens from being held for unreasonable time periods.

Factors influencing detainment’s duration include:

  • The situation’s complexity
  • The availability of evidence
  • The detainee’s cooperation

In Texas, the authorities cannot detain someone for longer than 48 hours. You can also challenge whether the length of your detainment is reasonable, even for stretches shorter than two days. Legal recourse may include filing a complaint against the police department or seeking redress in court.

Defending Against an Arrest Charge

If you are facing criminal charges, you have several options to contest the allegations. For instance, you can challenge the validity of the arrest by questioning the probable cause. You can also look for procedural errors during the arrest process. Legal defenses also include asserting innocence, presenting exculpatory evidence, or demonstrating constitutional violations during the investigation or arrest.

Most importantly, you should talk to an attorney. By nature, their job is to defend clients and help them achieve the best results after an arrest. Your attorney’s skills are your best defense against any criminal allegations.

Derek A. Adame, Attorney at Law is here to help defend you against criminal charges. If you are facing this situation, don’t try to handle it alone. Call our team at (940) 441-4239 for a free consultation. You can also schedule time with us online.

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